NOPE, me neither. I haven’t heard one supporter of Scottish independence from within the SNP or without who has ever mentioned 2017 as a possible referendum year. So, when Nicola Sturgeon announced on Monday that “there is not going to be an independence referendum in 2017” she could have prefaced it with “for the avoidance of doubt”.
There have even been suggestions linking the First Minister’s statement to polls last week that showed support for independence remaining at the 45 per cent it achieved in September, 2014. Taken together, these developments have been portrayed as a blow to the cause of Scottish independence and a bad start to the week for Ms Sturgeon. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The earliest date for an independence referendum to have gained any credence is 2019. This is one favoured by the political commentator Iain Macwhirter who, in his column in The Herald yesterday, wrote: “If Scotland is to remain in the single market it really needs to become independent before Britain leaves in 2019.” This may be so, yet how many people really believe that the process of taking the UK out of the EU will have concluded by then?
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The UK Government’s chaotic and dysfunctional behaviour since the Leave vote on June 23 last year has bought Nicola Sturgeon a bit of time. The First Minister, though, ought to guard against the temptation to luxuriate in it too much. The consultation period on the draft independence bill ends today. This exercise will probably back up recent poll figures indicating that support for independence has been maintained at around the 45 per cent mark.
If so, this ought to engender a degree of optimism in the Yes camp. Two years before the first referendum, support for independence was running at around 28 per cent. In two years, the Yes campaign picked up 17 percentage points despite never having properly addressed the currency issue and being caught off-guard by the sheer scale of the propaganda exercise mounted against it by the UK establishment and its flunkies at the top of the Labour Party in Scotland. If 2019 is to be the year for the second independence campaign (and I sincerely hope that it is) then the First Minister probably has the best part of this year at her disposal before announcing the date. She can then sit back for a few weeks; kick off the Manolos and enjoy the spectacle of a deeply unpleasant, privileged and authoritarian Home Counties woman attempting to deny the wishes of Holyrood before having to concede defeat. That might be worth a point or two in itself.
There is a view being propounded by spurned former party stalwarts and others that Scotland, constitutionally, simply doesn’t have any leverage to affect the timbre of the UK’s Brexit negotiations. This, though, is a hopelessly jejune position and misses the point entirely. It asks us realistically to consider the possibility that Scotland’s First Minister, following an EU referendum in which two-thirds of Scots voted to Remain, might simply have shrugged her shoulders and said, as suggested by former party strategist Alex Bell: “You know what chinas, Scotland is not a sovereign country and is not a signatory to any EU treaty. As such we can’t be recognised as a nation by the EU and cannot alter or sign up to European treaties. So let’s jolly well muck in and do as we’re told by the Tories.” Behave yourself, Alex.
The First Minister has probably known from the outset that nothing other than a hard Brexit can result from the negotiations. When you have reactionary old buffoons such as David Davis; Boris Johnson and, ahem … Liam Fox leading the negotiations, it’s not difficult to predict the outcome. Only one question remains: at what point in the do the three amigos resurrect England’s ancient claim on the French throne while shouting “Cry God for Harry, England and St George!”
Thus, Ms Sturgeon simply requires merely to stir the pot from time to time as she did on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday. Later that day, Theresa May helpfully provided the hard Brexit lines. A small group of SNP malcontents, led by the former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill, have managed to eke out an existence of sorts since they demitted high office by repeatedly warning nationalists how difficult a second campaign will be and stating the obvious about currency and economic performance. Several factors, though, will actually run in the Nationalists’ favour when the second independence referendum comes.
Not the least of these is that they have managed to maintain their 45 per cent Yes vote without campaigning. And though YouGov polling suggests significant numbers of Yes and No voters last time around crossing sides since then, this will concern the pro-independence side less than it will the Unionists. Having been caught up in the fervour of independence and perfidy of Scottish Labour once before there’s a good chance they will do so again.
Whoever leads the No campaign next time will be the one left holding the short straw. Alistair Darling’s disastrous leadership in the first independence referendum lost the No side 17 points. If Labour in Scotland insist on pursuing their delusional “we’re bigger Unionists than the Tories” policy for the next couple of years it will alienate yet more of their supporters who reluctantly voted No the last time.
A much better organised and respected Labour for Independence is at work once more and, if there is no repeat of the harassment and poison from within their own party it received the last time around, it will make progress. This time too, the Yes side will be alive to the artifices and mistruths of the UK establishment before they start. The London BBC will also be much more wary of repeating some of its more overt pro-Union bias.
Under May, the Tories have become more entrenched in their xenophobia and more zealous at making the most vulnerable pay for the bankers’ greed. They are even more rigorous in defending privilege and affluence. They will be the Yes side’s biggest allies.